Task for Delhi Police

Recently, the Young Paite Association, Delhi, organised a workshop on security, safety and the problems faced by people of the North-east in the capital. Problems like harassment by landlords/ houseowners, non-payment of salary by employers and insecurity while travelling in public transport/ metros were raised and discussed.
 In Delhi, when someone from the North-east rents a room or a flat, he/she is not given any formal written agreement. Those securing jobs have no formal appointment letters. Auto-drivers are unwilling to go by the meter but after the 16 December gangrape case they appear to have mellowed somewhat.  While travelling in buses, commuters from the North-east often become the objects of derision. They are mentally prepared to face the capital’s hard life.
Over the years there have been numerous cases of assault on North-easterners. Some serious ones being the Daula Kuan case of 2005 (a Mizo student was gangraped), the Munirka case of 2009 (a Manipuri teenager was allegedly raped and murdered), the Moti Bagh case of 2010 ( a North-east woman BPO employee was gangraped). In May this year, a Manipuri girl was allegedly raped and murdered in Chirag Dilli. Last year, a 21-year-old Khasi girl student of Amity University, Gurgaon, committed suicide after she was “caught” with a mobile phone while sitting for an examination.
After the Chirag Dilli incident,  an exclusive Delhi police team for the North-east was set up under Joint Commissioner (Training) Robin Hibu. Meetings between the Delhi Police cell and North-east representatives are being held regularly. At a recent police-public interface, the Joint Commissioner spoke about “zero tolerance” of crimes against women. He said help was available 24x7 through emergency lines and asked the North-east residents to make use of it whenever they were in need.
The Delhi Police for the North-east are also making efforts to coordinate with different NGOs and community leaders to help those working girls whenever they are in trouble. They are being trained in self-defence. Admitting that people from the North-east were often treated with an “attitude” in mainland India, the Joint Commissioner said a “cosmopolitan police” with the recruitment of several North-east youths into the police department, was a step in the right direction and it would go a long way in changing the “mindset”‘ of the Delhi Police.
When cases of sexual harassment or physical attack are reported, these are attended to, but problems with landlords and employers and security for women working till late hours, are beyond their ambit.
For most North-east youths coming to the city, particularly with an average academic education and  beginners (with no work experience), there is no alternative but to grab whatever comes their way. They are mostly in the hospitality, service and BPO sectors. There is no “appointment or an agreement” per se. Many such private companies and hospitality service centres are not even legally registered.
In the case of renting rooms or a house, almost all affordable accommodation in local colonies in Delhi are “illegal buildings”, with no “dealers” or  property broker system and no security or advance deposit. Any plan for eviction from such illegal buildings in Delhi can never take off. Somehow, perhaps, this suits the North-east youths as well, given their economic and living conditions. Therefore, a North-easterner possesses no resident, ration  or voter’s card.
Though the problems are varied and interconnected, debates, discussions on security and safety over-shadow these unreported concerns. And in any matter the police are considered a means to an end in providing security as well as solving problems. There is no denying that the security forces and the police as state institutions are the first and the last to oversee such security and safety. A  working women hostel for North-east women was set up at Jasola in east Delhi but it received no applications. Even after it was made a North-east students’ hostel, there have been no takers!
It can be said that most problems that North-east communities face, reported or unreported, have, in the true sense, a lot to do with local environment. And in any given society, as much as it breeds the bad and the ugly, there are good people as well.  Here the role of the “local aunties” cannot be underestimated. Sensitising them and involving them will make the work of the police and civil society much easier.
The Delhi Police mentions holding meetings with the Resident Welfare Associations, but how seriously their decisions are acted upon remains to be seen. An interface, a dialogue and interactions involving the North-east people, local residents and the police will go a long way in solving many, if not all the problems.

The Statesman ( NE page)  September 23, 2013

Polls may stall India’s Tipaimukh dam again

The controversial Tipaimukh hydro project on a transboundary river that flows from India to Bangladesh may be stalled again due to polls looming in both countries;

The Tipaimukh hydroelectricity project in India’s north-eastern state of Manipur – being planned by India for about four decades and being opposed by Bangladesh for almost as many – may be stalled once more by political compulsions in both countries. Environmentalists are rejoicing.
General elections are due in both Bangladesh and India in a few months. Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina is already battling charges that she is too pro-Indian, even when India is not responding positively to her overtures. In this situation, she is unlikely to push for or even agree to a project that has been opposed by environmentalists and farmers in Bangladesh for many years.
India’s prime minister Manmohan Singh tried to overcome this opposition by offering Bangladesh a stake in the Tipaimukh project this July. Unfortunately for him, the offer came just a few days after the Forest Advisory Committee, in his own government’s Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoE&F), rejected the proposal to declassify reserved forest land for the project.
Since then, political opposition in India has forced the government to shelve a land border agreement and Teesta river water sharing agreement with Bangladesh. Bureaucrats in New Delhi say this also means any chance of an agreement on the Tipaimukh project in the near future has become very slim indeed.
The Tipaimukh project is about building a 163-metre-high dam on the Barak river about 225 kilometres upstream of the point where it flows into Bangladesh from India. The project – in Churachandpur district in the southern part of the state of Manipur – is meant to control floods in Assam’s Barak valley and to generate 1,500 megawatts.
The project was conceptualised in June 1972, at the very first meeting of the India-Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission in New Delhi, just a few months after Bangladesh became independent. The Tipaimukh site – about 500 metres downstream of the point where the Tuivai river from Mizoram flows into the Barak – was identified in 1974.

The project has been mired in controversy from the very beginning. Environmentalists in India opposed it because the reservoir that would form behind the dam would submerge 25,822 hectares of forests. Their counterparts in Bangladesh opposed it because they feared a reduction in the water flow in the Barak. Farmers in Bangladesh opposed it because they use the banks of the rivers downstream to grow a variety of rice – Boro – that depends on seasonal flooding every monsoon. They were afraid that if the dam was built, the floodplains where they grow this rice would dry out.
Environmentalist in India and farmers in Bangladesh unite in opposition

Apart from these worries, there was the question of cost. In 1984, India’s Central Water Commission estimated that the project would cost Rs 1,078 crore (US$169 million). In 2008, Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVN) – one of the public sector undertakings supposed to carry out the project – estimated the cost would be Rs 9,211 crore (US$1.44 billion), well over eight times the original estimate. The Manipur state government’s estimate is Rs 5,885 crore (US$921 million).
The state government’s count of the number of trees that will be felled or drowned by the reservoir comes to over 8.2 million. It has estimated that the compensatory planting of trees that is mandatory in such situations will require 51,644 hectares, and that will cost an estimated Rs 131 crore (US$20.5 million). None of the original three project estimates includes this cost.
The state government says 2,027 residents of 12 villages will be displaced by the project, but it also has the potential to employ 826 of them. The rehabilitation costs have been included in their project estimates, according to state government officials in the Manipur capital Imphal. However, the funding for the project has not been finalized yet, they add.
SJVN was originally supposed to partner North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO) to carry out the project. But in 2009, NEEPCO was replaced by National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC), for reasons that have not yet been made public. On October 22, 2011, NHPC and SJVN signed an agreement with the Manipur state government to build and run the project.
Work on the project, however, started long ago, well before all permissions were in place. In November 2006, the state government wrote to MoE&F, seeking declassification of reserved forest land. The letter said all state government departments that had to approve the project had done so. It also said that though the land earmarked for submergence was classified as reserved forest, in practice it was used for shifting cultivation, that it did not have any significant wildlife, and that it was anyway being overrun by an invasive bamboo species, Melocanna baccifera, locally known as Muli bamboo. Nor did the area have any special socio-cultural or religious significance, the state government wrote.
When MoE&F’s Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) first discussed the project in 2007, its members said the state government had merely forwarded reports of various departments without any recommendation of its own. These reports could not be accepted as a sign of approval, the members felt.
Dubious environmental impact assessment shuts out public participation
They looked at the project’s environmental impact assessment (EIA) report and found no mention of the date and place of a public hearing on the project, which is mandatory. The members doubted reports that biodiversity in these forests were economically insignificant. They were also surprised by reports that local residents had voluntarily left the proposed site to pave way for the project.
The committee members found that the water quality study done by the state pollution control board had been based on 1990 data and had not followed directions given by the committee. The EIA report, they found, neither classified nor listed the flora that were now in the area proposed to be submerged.
Though the entire Himalayas are an earthquake-prone region, there was no study of the seismicity of the site. In this high-rainfall area, the members were surprised by the rainfall records of the past ten years – they thought the figures were far too low.
There was one mention that 172 fish species would be affected, of which 23 were indigenous, but no mention of whether there would be any attempt to safeguard them.
Given this situation, the FAC sent the application back to the Manipur government, asked it to make the corrections necessary, and apply again. The matter has been going back and forth since that 2007 meeting, with the latest being the FAC’s refusal this July to declassify land reserved for forests.
The many apprehensions about the project from Bangladesh were summed up by prime minister’s foreign affairs advisor Gowher Rizvi in a December 2011 article in Dhaka’s Daily Star. He wrote that the Tipaimukh project would adversely impact the environment, economy and security of Bangladesh and that in the debate, experts had been pushed aside by those who were not so well-informed but had strong views.
India assures downstream neighbour, but blocks joint initiatives
Pointing out that the Barak was a transboundary river, Rizvi wrote that by current international practices, interests of the lower riparian country Bangladesh had to be taken into account. In the article, Rizvi was confident that ultimately India would not take any action over the Tipaimukh project that would hurt the interests of Bangladesh. The Indian government has given the same assurance to Khaleda Zia, the main opposition leader in Bangladesh.
Rizvi recommended that environmental groups and experts in India and Bangladesh should study the Tipaimukh project jointly. This suggestion has been made a number of times, but access of Bangladeshi experts to the project site has been repeatedly blocked by Indian authorities on security grounds.
The Tipaimukh project is now on hold, though the FAC decision is a halt on declassification of forest land, not on the entire project as such. The committee members have in fact asked for a revised plan where the forest area to be used for the project could be minimized, and so could the socio-environmental impact.
Clearly, the last word on the Tipaimukh project has not been written.
17  SEPTEMBER 2013  thethirdpole.net 

Mizo Women's Big Push for Legal Reforms

In a historic victory for the women’s movement in Mizoram, the State Law Commission is now in the final process of reviewing The Mizo Marriage Bill, 2013, The Mizo Inheritance Bill, 2013, and The Mizo Divorce Bill, 2013, which will be introduced in the State Assembly after public consultations across the Mizoram. This is the result of a unique struggle that has gone on for over a decade, waged by the Mizo Hmeichhe Insuihkhawm Pawl (MHIP), an apex body representing several local women’s groups. 

After years of advocacy and repeated attempts at sending innumerable memorandums and draft bills to the Assembly and other executive bodies, the MHIP finally managed to push the state system into considering judicial and legislative changes in the marriage, divorce, and inheritance and succession laws in order to safeguard the interests of ordinary women.

The dynamic Pi Sangkhumi, 60, former president of MHIP, is a happy woman today. It’s been her long-cherished dream to ensure reforms related to marriage and inheritance as she has seen generations of Mizo women suffer because of the legal biases in the system. Explaining the need for these reforms, she says, “A Mizo woman has never had any rights over property whether moveable, immoveable or even gifts, known as ‘bungrua’ in the local language, that are given to her at the time of marriage. Her husband can divorce her at any time and throw her out of the house without providing any financial support.”

Traditionally, Mizo women have played a productive role not just within their homes – as wives and mothers – but have also made a mark as entrepreneurs, teachers and officers in the state administration. However, just as the state’s history has been strife-torn, so has the life of its women, who have borne the worst consequences of the instability and violence that had marked the region.

The years when the Mizo National Front (MNF), an underground movement, was actively agitating against the government were particularly difficult. Earlier known as the Mizo National Famine Front, formed to help ease the immense suffering of the local people during the severe Mautam Famine of 1959, the organisation renamed itself the MNF in 1961. The state’s inaction during famine led to a wave of secessionist uprisings and armed insurrections during the entire decade of the sixties.

Pi Sangkhumi can “never forget those difficult days”. Her father, one of the key leaders of the MNF, was killed during the peak of the movement. His death spelled tough times for her family but they coped as best as they could. A year later, in 1965, she went for higher studies to Shillong, the capital of the neighbouring state of Meghalaya. Being a brilliant student enabled her to study and live free-of-cost there, as her expenses were covered by scholarships. “There was no way financial support could come from home,” she recalls.

All the while that Pi Sangkhumi was coping with her personal struggles she was acutely aware of the difficulties being faced by women at large during those two-decade-long bloody conflict – from mid-1960s - mid 80s. Today , Pi Sangkhumi and the Mizos at large area attempting hard to leave behind those dark memories, so much was the pain that narrating and recollecting was something that Pi Sangkhumi would better avoid and dismissed. To cite the situation of torture Mizo women face , mention maybe made of an incident such as the brutal gang rape of two young women by army jawans on a cold November night in 1966 , when the MNF attacked a convoy of Army personnel advancing towards Champhai village in east Mizoram. In retaliation, the Army herded the villagers together and set fire to their homes. The two women, the daughters of prominent community leaders , were held separately in a small shack hut where soldiers allegedly took turns in raping them.

 After 47 years, a compensation of Rs 5 lakh each has recently been announced by the central government for the two rape survivors, who were in a pitiable condition today. Reportedly one of them just sits quietly all day with a blank expression on her face. She needs assistance to even move around. The other survivor suffers from extreme paranoia and nightmares. She refuses to sleep alone and is suspicious of everyone around her. This story is common to many victims who have endured such traumas during the years of the revolt. 

It was these crimes being committed against women that prompted various women’s groups from across the state and even outside to come together and form a powerful organisation that worked to fight for the collective rights of the women of the state. The MHIP was created in 1974 when Mizoram was still a Union Territory – it got full statehood in 1986 – and it literally means binding women together. Its logo ‘hmui’, a charkha, symbolises Mizo women’s creativity and sense of self reliance. It is also the device they use to weave the beautiful ‘puanchei’, their traditional dress. Tlawmngaihna, or philanthropy – a key characteristic of the Mizo society – was the other reason behind the setting up of MHIP. Besides implementing several initiatives for the empowerment of women, particularly related to education and entrepreneurship development in the recent decades, MHIP has been focusing on campaigning against domestic violence, rape and other forms of gender violence. One of their main challenges has been to convince people to change traditional systems and customs that suppress women, both with the family and in society.

Pi Sangkhumi is of the opinion that while “Mizo women are definitely a part of the work force now, but they are still not the decision-makers and that needs to change”. Which is why MHIP pursing the legislative route.

The practice of quoting a “bride price” irks Pi Sangkhumi no end. “It’s cash or kind paid to the bride’s father during marriage but, I ask, is one supposed to ‘purchase’ one’s bride? What status will such a woman have in her marital home?” remarks the veteran activist, who is also a teacher and a retired member of the State Public Service Commission.

According to her, the “bride price” custom started around half a century ago and was meant to be “a phuahchop”, or a practice introduced temporarily. But over the years, it has become a ‘tradition’ that is faithfully being followed. “A regressive practice should be prohibited by the legal system. We cannot overturn a custom but we can definitely make it better or modify it,” she argues. 

Drawing from examples like child marriage, the purdah system and sati – practices which are illegal in India now – Pi Sangkhumi asks, “Why can’t we legally ban the Mizo bride price practice, too?” She further adds, “When laws such as the Hindu Marriage Act can be passed and implemented in other parts of India, why can’t we pass a Mizo Inheritance or Divorce Law?”

Another demand that she and her group are making is for a 33 per cent reservation in the political system. As a first step towards realising their dream, MHIP is advocating for an increased induction of women candidates into local political parties.

Surely if anyone can make change happen for Mizo women it’s the MHIP, which has a presence in 16 blocks in the state with 12 joint headquarters and 740 local branches. Pi Sangkhumi, who has penned the history of the Mizo women’s movement, titled ‘MHIP Chanchin 1974-2009’, says with a broad smile, “During our general assembly meetings when more than 2,000 women gather, even the Vanapa hall – the biggest public hall in Mizoram – is small for us. That’s the kind of woman power we have.”

Having worked hard on the legislation on marriage, divorce and inheritance, Pi Sangkhumi is on to another task these days: getting important laws related to domestic violence, rape and human rights translated into the Mizo language. She is doing this because she strongly feels “it is important that every hardworking Mizo woman understands her rights”.

Women's Feature Service, September 2013

Will Tipaimukh Hydro Power project really kick off ? Will there be light ?

 In another round of the Forest Advisory Committee in the Ministry of Environment and Forest meeting on August 13 and 14, over diversion of 1551.60 hectares of forest land in Mizoram for the construction of Tipaimukh Multipurpose Dam, the committee once again reiterated that diversion of forest land should not be sanctioned. It recalled its earlier meeting in July, where the FAC had disapproved the diversion of 25,822 hectares of Forest land in Manipur.
The committee had stated that the forest area that has 7816931 trees and 0.27 lakh bamboos, is largely disproportionate to the expected power generation, and that the overall cost far outweigh the benefits likely to be acquired. The said requirement is 1/5th of the total land requirements for an odd 497 such hydro project in the whole country.
Besides the delay, clouded in controversy and secrecy, the proposed project has also caused a stir in the political establishments and civil society in neighboring Bangladesh , given that water flows down from the confluence in Tipaimukh to Surma and Khushiara rivers and construction of the reservoir at this junction will affect the seasonal flow in the downstream.
The apprehension, concerns and reactions from Bangladesh can be summed up from an opinion written by Bangladesh Prime Minister’s Foreign Advisor Gowher Rizvi in December 2011, ( Daily Star, Dhaka ). Maintaining that the project will adversely impact the environment, economy and security of Bangladesh, Rizvi stated that Bangladesh cannot afford to take it lightly and must gear up to ensure that their National interests are not compromised.
The project which is proposed to be funded through World Bank have so far not been arranged nor even discussed with the Bank, the Bangladesh PM Foreign adviser wrote. Rizvi underlined that Barak is an international river and therefore the interests of Bangladesh has to be taken into account according to current international practices.
Asserting that India had assured Bangladesh it would not take any action over Tipaimukh HEP that would hurt the interests of Bangladesh Rizvi stated that civil society and scientists in Bangladesh should conduct an in-depth study to come up to an independent conclusion.
Estimated at Rs 5,885.00 crore the 162.80 metre reservoir proposed to be built 500 metres downstream at the confluence of the river Tuivai from Mizoram and river Barak from Assam was conceptualized to control flood in Assam valley and generate 1500 MW for power starved Manipur and North Eastern States of India at large. The concept began to materialize after the first meeting between India and Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission held in New Delhi in 1972. Subsequently, the project site was identified in 1974. An agreement was signed between the Government of Manipur, National Hydro Power Corporation ( NHPC) Ltd. and Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd (SJVN) in October 2011. NHPC replaced NEEPCO- North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Ltd in 2009 for reasons unknown.
Manipur Government in November 2006 wrote to the MoEF for necessary action for Forest clearance, forwarding an Ariel survey report of the proposed project site by Regional Forest Department, State Forest Department and comments from User agency NEEPCO.
All these departments had given their no objection statement for the Construction of the hydro project, including the State Pollution Control Board.
The joint survey observed that large part of the catchment area is subjected to shifting cultivation (a practice by inhabitants of the hills in Manipur) and that the project area does not harbor significant wildlife, nor is a national park or wildlife sanctuary, neither a bio-sphere or a tiger reserve and not an elephant corridor. The survey report also maintained that the surveyed site does not come under a protected area and that there is no official document to support its socio-cultural, religious value associated with this forest land.
The project went into a roadblock at the Ministry’s Environment Clearance meeting several times. In its meeting in 2007 and 2008 the expert appraisal committee had commented that the State Government merely forwarded reports and comments of Departmental surveys / reports, which the committee stated cannot be accepted as an approval.
Further, examining the EIA ( environment assessment report) the expert committee found that there is no mention of the location of the sampling survey neither a schedule of public hearing. It also noted its surprise that inhabitants have left the proposed site to pave the way for the project. The committee stated that the water quality study done by the state pollution control board, which is based on 1990 data did not follow the direction of the committee.
Moreover the EIA report did not mention the flora and fauna; its type and number etc inhabiting the proposed site, but reported that no ‘economically’ viable fauna were found in the project site, that has raised doubts of the committee. The experts also seeks clarification on the question of ‘indigenous’ upon the mention of 172 species of fish and out of this 23 fish species were categorically stated as indigenous, it asked whether the remaining species are exogenous. It also seeks for a Seismic study of the area.
The committee noted that the amount of rainfall during the period of 10 years in the study is unbelievably meager for construction of such a large hydro project.
As it stands today, it is merely a halt on diversion of required Forest land and not a stop to the implementation of the Tipaimukh hydro project. The FAC had suggested for revision of the project where forest land requirement can be minimized and therefore lesser socio – environment impact. Now the anxiety is whether FAC’s comments, observations will be considered or respected.
The vague survey and environment assessment of the project remains a concern for obvious reasons. Going by the reports it is clear that no research study and data were available on the flora and fauna of the Hills of Manipur. And that the odd 2000 or so “tribal” forest inhabitants who will be displaced were merely considered an insignificant occupants of the forest and that their livelihood such as agricultural practice - Jhum Cultivation were considered an unimportant activity and destructive. Moreover, the unclassified forest with no record of “important, notable wildlife, sanctuaries etc” further supports the theory of ‘insignificance’ of this forest land.
Voices of concerns over big dams and the search for alternative solutions with lesser impact were raised from several quarters. While no major success and output of hydro projects and large dams are witnessed in the northeastern region, particularly in Manipur, will the Tipaimukh Hydro Power bring light in the dark corner of India’s border is something that is not so convincing.
The Sangai Express
September 9,2013

Feisty Naga Editor Roots For Women Through Her Writing

She has been called an “inconvenient woman” and even described as “the only man in Nagaland”. This is because her writings have almost always provoked strong reactions – whether it from the top brass of the army, local politicians or ordinary readers. Of course, she “never loses sleep over such comments” as she firmly believes that they are simply “ways deployed by patriarchal societies to put down women who do not tread the path laid out for them”.

Meet Tiamerenla Monalisa Changkija, 52, a no-nonsense journalist and editor-publisher of ‘Nagaland Page’, a daily newspaper printed from Dimapur, the largest city of Nagaland . In 1999, when Monalisa began publishing it, the state was going through rough times. Clashes between the underground Naga nationalist movement and the military were common and it was the local populace that was paying a heavy price. As for the media, they had merely become mouthpieces of one side or the other.

What about reflecting on the ground realities through the lens of development, human rights and women’s empowerment, that was the question Monalisa asked herself. Her ‘Nagaland Page’ set out to do precisely this, and created a stir in the process. Her critics, of course, wondered how long she would last but after being in the news arena for more than a decade now, the paper has become the voice of reason and independent thought in a region that continues to be strife-torn.

I am essentially a small town girl and I love working from my home state even through I have had a stint in the national media. My paper - a black-and-white tabloid - manages to encourage public discussions , which is like a neighborhood paan shops and tea shops where people gather to exchange views on politics and society. It feels good when young people, particularly scribes, tell me that my columns have helped shape their thoughts or inspired them to become journalists,” she shares.

Independent and fearless, Monalisa is very proud of her identity, “I love being a woman and I love equally the fact that I am a journalist. My philosophy has always been that ‘it’s a man’s world, so you have to learn the rules well and beat men at their own game.’”

This meant, of course, that she was always a strong supporter of gender rights. According to Monalisa, the patriarchal system that exists in the Northeast, combined with local customary laws, exert an influence over women’s lives that is even stronger than the Constitution of India.

She has often argued for 33 per cent reservations for women in local bodies in Nagaland as well as their greater involvement in peace talks in the region. Says the lively editor, “These are not easy times for Naga women. Local government bodies are not traditional bodies, so why should the ancient rules apply to them? But men never realise this.”

The other issue that has always disturbed her is the fact that when it comes to the peace-keeping process, women are always kept out. “Haven’t Naga women proved themselves within families? As mothers, sisters and wives, they are they ones who keep households going and maintain the balance within them. So why can’t they contribute in a larger social setting? And let me not even comment on those student bodies and select women’s groups that like to dictate what a Naga woman should wear. Such directives only undermine a woman’s existence,” Monalisa emphasises.

She believes that her early experiences in life have helped her develop strong opinions. Reflecting on times when she lived in a home with a thatched roof, walked for miles on unpaved roads to school, studied under the light of a kerosene lamp and carried heavy loads of water in vessels shaped out of bamboo trunks, she remarks, “We were children in the days of Nagaland’s struggle for statehood. We grew up ready to take on the world and never blamed anyone for our personal or collective shortcomings.”

Today, she is conscious that there are no definite records of those years in the 1970s, when she was a girl, and situation was “hotting up”. Perhaps it was this that drew her to journalism in the first place, although she sees her journalism not just confined to politics but larger questions of development.

As a reporter she covered conflict and remembers how security forces in the 1980s and early 90s, would routinely “terrorise” people – especially in the Mon and Tuensang districts of eastern Nagaland. “Here in some of the country’s most underdeveloped pockets, numerous human rights violations were taking place, and innumerable atrocities were being committed on women,” Monalisa recalls. Even though she was married by then and was a new mother to boot, she would grasp every chance of visiting these regions, despite the challenges involved.

In 1987, she went to cover then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to Mon district, which was “practically under military rule, with the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) enforced strictly”. With her 11-month-old daughter, she undertook a 10-hour journey from Dimapur to Mon. She was frisked and interrogated several times along the way – the army even checked her baby’s nappies and feeding bottle to see if there were any hidden ammunition. Her daughter would often cry when they were stopped and Monalisa was “caught between trying to comfort her and answer the innumerable questions of the army personnel”. 

Those were the days when the local media was not taken too seriously. “A woman with a baby coming to cover the prime minister’s visit was something that did not figure in the consciousness of the state,” she says. When Monalisa planned to travel further to the interior village of Longwa, the security forces began to question her intentions and took steps to prevent her from travelling further – even destroying a connecting bridge. Undeterred, Monalisa did finally make it to Longwa, covering the distance on foot with her baby. 

During her visits to the hinterland, villagers would approach her for help on how to deal with security personnel and she would make the time to assist them.  “The army would pick up any person over the most outlandish charges. They would hold them without producing them before the magistrate within 24 hours, as they are supposed to do, so for ordinary people this was an ordeal,” Monalisa reveals. Since there were no civil society organisations or human rights groups then, she would often step forward and follow up on cases of wrongful detention until justice was rendered. There was even a time when she found herself branded as a supporter of the underground movement.

Both Nagaland and Monalisa have come a long way since then. The state is far more peaceful now, and Monalisa has gone on to establish her mettle as a journalist of note. Says she, “As journalist, I like to give a proper context and perspective to the events being reported. In conflict areas, one has to walk a tight rope. But it is imperative that one puts one’s foot down when required, otherwise democratic institutions such as media will never thrive and grow.”

Today, her newspaper demands Monalisa’s undivided energies and she is banking on her readers to keep it going. As she concludes, “Sometimes I find it difficult to imagine that I am actually editing and publishing a newspaper! I couldn’t really ask for anything more!”

Women's Feature Service , AUGUST 2013